Bill Leddy and Marsha Maytum 1975 & '77

Bill Leddy, bachelor of architecture '75

Marsha Maytum, bachelor of architecture '77

UO alumni push envelope in green design

Few UO alumni can claim they're managing one of the best architecture firms in the nation; even fewer can say they're doing so with their spouse.

Bill Leddy and Marsha MaytumBill Leddy and Marsha Maytum met at the University of Oregon in 1973. They graduated with bachelor's degrees in architecture in 1975 and 1977, respectively, before moving back to their homeland, California's Bay Area. The year after Maytum graduated, the two got married.

Today, they continue to be nationally recognized for their work in sustainability and social welfare as principals with their San Francisco-based architecture firm Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects. Both Leddy and Maytum hold FAIA, LEED, and AP designations.

For the third consecutive year, the firm has been included in The Architect 50, Architect Magazine's annual ranking of architecture firms nationwide. It has also been named as the 2013 No. 1 sustainable architecture firm in the country, a notable feat for a firm with only eighteen employees.

"This firm in San Francisco is proof that you don't have to be a large firm to make a big impact through sustainable design," wrote the editors of Architecture Magazine. "LMSA has embedded the ethos of energy efficiency into its entire practice."

Thoreau Center for Sustainability
Above: LMSA was commissioned by the National Park Service to renovate a former army hospital into The Thoreau Center for Sustainability, a center for research facilities on environmental issues. The building became a model for the NPS for integrating sustainable design into historic buildings. Photograph © Tim Griffith.

While attending UO, both Leddy and Maytum recall taking studios with professors emeritus Tom Hacker, John Reynolds, and Ed Mazria. After graduation, they gained experience through apprenticeships and work with a variety of firms in the Bay Area. (Leddy worked at Backen, Arrigoni & Ross, a firm founded by UO alumni Howard Backen, Bob Arrigoni, and Bruce Ross.)

In 1982, Maytum went to work at San Francisco firm Tanner & Vandine, where she met Richard Stacy. Leddy joined the firm the following year as a project architect. The firm's makeup changed a few times, and by 2000 their names were on the door: "Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects."

LMSA has earned more than 100 design awards for its work marrying sustainable efficiency with aesthetic marvel. Sustainability and research are at the heart of every assignment. And they actively seek out projects with a philanthropic angle.

"We have tried to focus our practice on mission-driven work," said Maytum, co-principal of LMSA. "We feel that we have one career, one path for this, so we might as well work on projects that are making a difference."

Leddy and Maytum's firm has been working with sustainable design since the mid-1990s, before the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system for the maintenance of green buildings existed. In the Presidio, San Francisco's former U.S. military base, LMSA was commissioned by the National Park Service to renovate a former army hospital into The Thoreau Center for Sustainability, a center for research facilities on environmental issues. This garnered a lot of recognition for the young firm, as the building became a model for the National Park Service for integrating sustainable design into historic buildings.

Sweetwater Spectrum, another one of LMSA's projects, is a recently developed housing solution in Sonoma, California, for adults with autism. The building is the nation's first community built specifically for autistic adults and was fostered as a replicable case-study model nationwide. It is a paradigm for LMSA's appeal for sustainable design through its net-zero classification (it generates as much energy as it consumes).

The Merritt Crossing Senior Apartments in Oakland, California, was designed as affordable housing with a high standard for sustainable design. Built to house disadvantaged or formerly homeless seniors, it won the 2012 Honor Award for Exceptional Residential AIA East Bay Regional Design Award.

The Ed Roberts campus, a building that sits atop a Bay Area Rapid Transit station in Berkeley, is home to ten organizations that meet specific needs of people with disabilities through direct services and social policy work. It was the largest application of universal design on a civic scale in the country at the time it was built.

Architect Magazine praised the firm for meeting these criteria: fifty-six percent of the gross square footage of the firm's projects met AIA 2030 challenge standards, 100 percent used energy modeling and pursued a potable water reduction beyond what was mandated by code, and fifty-six percent of the practice's staff have LEED credentials.

The firm is now working on a public library in the North Beach district of San Francisco, and a new design institute for the College of Engineering on the University of California, Berkeley, campus.

Leddy and Maytum agreed that their preparation for the architecture firm derives from their education at the University of Oregon. They took the time to discuss early work in sustainability, their firm's unified social values, their experience at UO, and a time when Lawrence Hall lacked women's restrooms.

 

Q: How would you say your time at University of Oregon instigated your careers?

Sweetwater Spectrum
Above: Sweetwater Spectrum, another one of LMSA's projects, is the nation's first community built specifically for autistic adults and was fostered as a replicable case-study model nationwide. It is a paradigm for LMSA's appeal for sustainable design through its net-zero classification. Photograph © Tim Griffith.

Bill Leddy: [It warrants mentioning] how well prepared I felt for this profession having come from the University of Oregon. I was very well-rounded in my preparation for a life of making buildings. The approach to architecture continues to be comprehensive and all-embracing. That's what allows us to make buildings that can make a difference in the world.

Marsha Maytum: Bill and I both feel really lucky we got the education we did at the University of Oregon. It's been a very important part of who we are. I'm really, really happy that the university has continued on and is particularly so successful in sustainability. The university has taken a real leadership role over the past decades on that topic. It's definitely informed our career and who we are.

Just as an important sidenote: In 1977, there were not many women in architecture. That was probably a little more interesting journey as a young architect than for a man at the time. There were no women's bathrooms in one part of Lawrence Hall. So during that one radical time, the bathrooms were liberated. There was a sign on the door for a while to dial who was in there, but that was abandoned. It was in the old part of Lawrence Hall. Times are changing.

 

Q: Were there any courses you took or people you met while at UO who helped you succeed?

BL: I think John Reynolds was really influential. Tom Hacker was teaching at U of O at the time. I took a couple studios with him. They were sort of a highly influential group of folks to me and to most of my friends.

MM: Ed Mazria was a young professor when I was there. He was very influential, but John Reynolds and all those incredible classes really gave us such an important understanding of energy efficiency and working in harmony with nature and really how it important it was for the environment. Those definitely had profound influences on both of our careers.

 

Q: The UO's sustainable architecture program was recently recognized as No. 1 in the nation. How did the set of skills you learn at UO with the architecture department carry over to your work?

MM: That's actually a very nice parallel because we were named the No. 1 sustainability firm [by Architect Magazine]. That was really a key component of what we felt we came away from with [from UO] – a deep understanding of environmental design and the importance of working with nature.

BL: When we were there in the early '70s, this whole notion of environmentally appropriate design was in its infancy. We'd gone through the oil crisis and the first generation of solar homes was going on at the time. John Reynolds was there teaching his environmental control systems classes.

[There was] a strong interest in architectural design and ecological context and the notion that each building rises up out of its unique character of its climate and its own ecosystem. I remember designing a house that was all about celebrating the rain. Coming from California, the rain had a big impact on me. I remember the elaborate design where whenever it rained, the whole house would come alive and all these elements were driven by the rain. That idea was very much in the air at University of Oregon and it has been ever since.

 

Q: Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects does a lot of socially conscious work, like affordable housing for the formerly homeless, or nonprofit projects. Do you share a set of values with the other principals at the firm?

BL: Absolutely. That's why we've been working together for thirty years now. We all share the same interests in architecture and what we refer to as "design with purpose"—the idea that architecture has a bigger job to do than just inspire and look beautiful. It has a much deeper and more powerful mission in the world and that makes it a better place. These are values we all gained in our university experiences.

 

Q: Do you always look for a social welfare angle in your projects?

BL: Over the last ten or fifteen years, we've been able to focus on that kind of work and not do much in the way of commercial, for-profit, developer-driven work. We feel it's a much more important way to spend our time.

Early in my career, I was just really interested in making cool stuff. After a while you realize that's a little bit of an empty endeavor. There are a lot of pressing problems in the world and if design can be focused on addressing some of those issues in some small way, then the architecture takes on a depth of meaning and a layer of usefulness that's pretty exciting.

Even though we're a small firm, the things that we're doing are really first-ever kinds of projects. Each project has its own interesting research component that applies beyond the scope of one project to larger ideas that are happening in the professional world.

MM: We have tried to focus our practice on mission-driven work. We feel that we have one career, one path for this, so we might as well work on projects that are making a difference.

 

Q: In the mid-nineties, your firm's work on the Thoreau Center for Sustainability in the Presidio military base in San Francisco became a model for the National Park Service. You were developing green architecture projects before it became a familiar concept. Was it tricky working on sustainable architecture before such a concept was well known?

MM: Yes. It was really a great project, thinking about how to recycle buildings, how to transform those resources to new uses. It's been a huge success. Over sixty nonprofit organizations are in that collection of buildings that used to be an old army hospital.

Doing the work and research for integrating green building materials and systems was at the very, very beginning—the early days before LEED. It was a lot of work with manufacturers, subcontractors. It was a lot of outreach and education and cajoling. It became a very important model, particularly within the National Park Service as how to integrate sustainable design in historic landmark structures.

 

Q: Is there anything you could tell me about a project you're currently working on?

BL: We're working on a small engineering building at the University of California, Berkeley, that's going to house an innovation institute that has to do with rapid prototyping using 3D printing and a various cutting-edge technologies to reinvent the future. There are a whole variety of things. We joke around here that the only things we don't do are prisons and hospitals.

MM: I'm doing the last of the branch improvements [of a public library] in San Francisco in North Beach. We're building a new library on what was a corner parking lot. We're completing that park block with the new branch library. The library will be finished this spring. It will be a nice new amenity for [an] interesting part of San Francisco. We're working with Bill Fontana, the internationally renowned sound artist. He's doing the public art piece for the library.

 

Q: Is there anything you are most proud of professionally?

BL: We have a wide variety of project types. We keep things interesting. We do everything from the occasional single-family home that is pushing the envelope on net-zero energy or low-carbon living, to housing for the chronically homeless or special populations like adults with autism, to cultural institutions and theaters.

I've been very active in AIA recently and now I'm chair of the national AIA committee on the environment. One of the things I'm in the middle of is to convince the AIA national board to make sustainability narrative and building performance metrics for all designer works that the AIA sponsors, from the local chapters to the national, around the country. Our profession is bifurcated, still.

We can no longer afford to be bifurcated. It's all about great design. It's not great unless it's deeply sustainable and connects us powerfully to the natural world around us. We haven't quite won that battle, but I've been very proud to be a part of it.

MM: For me, the work that we did in the Presidio early on—the integration of sustainable design into historic renovation—was really important for me. The historic architecture classes that I took [taught me] a lot about the respect for the history of our culture and our built environment.

The work at Fort Baker, another army base, the Sweetwater Spectrum project—Bill really spearheaded the Ed Roberts campus and the new models for housing for formerly homeless. I think those are all things we're all very proud of.

 

Q: You run a nationally recognized and award-winning architecture firm with your spouse. How would you say it affects your relationship and the dynamic of the firm?

BL: We've been working together for so long now we've developed a few useful strategies. We try not to talk about work at home, if we can. We try not to bring our home to the office. I think there are times when we do better at that than others, but I think by and large, Marsha and I are partners in life. This spring we'll have been married for thirty-six years.

MM: People always are amazed that we work together. I've known Bill since I was nineteen. I think we've worked it out. We've been married since 1978 and we've been working together since 1973. We've had a great professional career and a great relationship and we've raised two very wonderful children. Our two children have nothing to do with architecture, although they appreciate great design. They both want to do good things with their lives, not with architecture.

 

Merritt Crossing Senior Apartments
Above: The Merritt Crossing Senior Apartments in Oakland, California, was designed by LMSA as affordable housing with a high standard for sustainable design. Built to house disadvantaged or formerly homeless seniors, it won the 2012 Honor Award for Exceptional Residential AIA East Bay Regional Design Award. Photograph © Tim Griffith.